Styled as a “border security briefing” for Donald Trump led by Texas Gov. Abbott and state law enforcement leaders, Wednesday's press conference in the lower Rio Grande Valley came across more as a miniature political rally for Abbott’s reelection campaign and an opportunity for the governor, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton to reiterate their fealty toward the 45th president.
Abbott had been hyping up Wednesday’s meeting of the minds with Trump for weeks after securing the former president's endorsement back on June 1. Two weeks after endorsing Abbott, Trump agreed to join him in Weslaco at the end of the month to talk about the uptick in illegal border crossings since President Joe Biden took office and Abbott’s new plan to get back to building a new border wall, Texas-style.
In his nearly 20 minutes of remarks, Trump did spend some time talking about the issues along the border, bragging about “the almost 500 miles of wall” his administration built (the true length is closer to 450 miles, according to The Washington Post). But true to form, he ended up digressing in freewheeling fashion, recalling his greatest hits as when he mocked the Russia investigation and claimed it was really Hillary Clinton who was working with the Ruskis.
Of course, he made sure to cast more doubt on the 2020 election results, and even got in a few jabs at right-wing punching bags congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar all before slipping in some digs about Biden’s cognitive capacity.
Abbott kicked things off by playing up his and Trump’s supposedly close ties. “He’s a great friend of Texas. He’s a great friend of mine. When I was governor and he was president, anytime I called upon the president, he was there to step up and help our fellow Texans,” Abbott said, beaming.
“And one of the things that he did better than anything else, and definitely better than any other president is he stepped up and he secured our border and kept Texans and Americans safe,” he said.
Flipping his tone from adulatory to antagonistic, Abbott then launched into a diatribe about the alleged horrors of what’s happening along the United States-Mexico border under Biden’s watch. He mocked Vice President Kamala Harris for visiting the South American countries where a large number of illegal immigrants are coming from before visiting the border itself, and accused the Biden administration of “missing the point.
“There’s one place to solve all the problems on the border, and that is on the border,” Abbott said, before attempting to regale Trump with everything the Abbott administration has done to step up border security where he claims the Biden administration has failed.
Abbott touted his nascent Texas border wall project announced last week, bragging that the state had already set aside a $250 million down payment for the yet-to-be-designed project, but conspicuously didn’t mention how he’s hoping to pay for the exorbitantly expensive endeavor in large part with solicited donations from outraged border-hawks across the country.
Nor did he discuss the effort it will take to convince Texas landowners to give up their property for the wall project, and made no mention of the environmental destruction that would come in the construction project’s wake, if it ever truly gets off the ground in the first place.
Abbott bragged about having made a disaster declaration for counties along the border (and several that are hours further inland) that would grant law enforcement officials more leeway to arrest and jail illegal immigrants. He didn’t mention that earlier this week he had to amend his original disaster declaration to remove 11 counties from the order — such as frontline border zones El Paso County and the Rio Grande Valley counties of Webb, Duval, Starr, Hidalgo and Cameron — who told Abbott they didn’t want to take part in his plan to aggressively lock up as many immigrants as possible for crimes like trespassing and vandalism.
When Trump took the microphone, he predictably started off by bragging about having recently endorsed Abbott for reelection: “I did notice your poll numbers are through the roof,” Trump said, He thanked Abbott as well as Patrick and Paxton (who were both in attendance) for their support during his administration.
Trump again reminded the crowd that he’d endorsed both Abbott and Patrick in their races, but didn’t extend the same courtesy to Paxton, who along with Land Commissioner George P. Bush is angling for the Trump seal of approval in the Republican primary for attorney general.
“I’ll tell you what, good luck Ken,” Trump said. “I know you have a little race coming up, and I’ll be making an endorsement of somebody in the near future.”
Trump asked Paxton how many people were running against him. Paxton said he had Republican two challengers (Bush and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman). “Two? That’s all?,” Trump asked. “Well that’s not bad for you. You can handle it, all right?”
As a bit of foreshadowing that Trump wasn’t likely to hit on the border-focused talking points Abbott clearly hoped he’d stick to, Trump seemed visibly disinterested when Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw attempted to walk Trump through a slide presentation highlighting the rates at which border crossings and seizures of the deadly drug fentanyl have increased over the past several months. The former president sat with his arms folded for all of McCraw’s brief presentation, with nary a glance at the large, brightly-colored charts and graphs that were clearly designed to catch Trump’s attention.
“The border has never been this way,” Trump claimed. “It went from the best border we’ve ever had in the history of our country.” He complained that “it took two and a half years to start the wall because we were sued by everybody,” before going off on a tangent about calls from some left-wing Democrats to defund the police were related to the issues at the border, which then somehow evolved into — you guessed it — complaining about the Russia investigation.
“Now they’re saying ‘Oh we’ve got a problem. So let’s blame the sheriffs, let’s blame the governors, let’s blame everybody else,” Trump said. “But they’re also saying it with ‘defund the police.’ They came out with a term: defund the police. And it’s well documented, that’s for sure. Just look at AOC, and look at [Ilhan] Omar: how’s she doing? How’s her country doing, by the way, and they tell us how to run our country right now. How are they doing?”
“It’s like ‘Russia, Russia, Russia,’ Trump ranted. “Everyone said ‘Russia, Russia Russia.’ I said ‘What’s that?’ They said ‘Oh, you were very friendly.’ Well that’s been proven to be false, totally false. It was them that were associated with Russia. It was them, the Democrats and Hillary and the group that gave money to Russia. So this is a disinformation campaign,” Trump said.
Trump thanked the people of Texas for supporting him in last year’s presidential election. “We won in a landslide, it wasn’t even close,” Trump claimed, even though he only won Texas by 5.6 percentage points compared to his 9 percentage points margin of victory over Clinton in 2016.
“We did well. And we did well in other states too. We did well in states that we lost, we did really well. Much better than we do. We got 12 million more votes than we got the first time,” Trump claimed, before once again falsely alleging in a confusing anecdote that vote counting impropriety and fraud were the reasons he still isn’t sitting in the White House.
“One of the media called me up,” Trump continued, “and they said ‘Could I ask you what was the difference between ‘16 and ‘20?’ I said ‘Well, the big difference is we did much better than in ‘20.’ And they thought about this and [said] ‘You know, you’re right.’”
“But the vote counting was probably a little bit better for them in that ‘20 [election], because what we’ve done was appreciated by the people,” Trump claimed. “And we better get our election straightened out.”
“We have a sick country in many ways,” Trump said. “It’s sick in elections, and it’s sick in the border. And if you don’t have good elections, and if you don’t have a strong border, you don’t have a country.”
Throughout Trump’s digressions, Abbott sat with a tightly-pursed smile across his face, mostly in silence but with the occasional chuckle when it seemed clear the former president was trying to elicit laughter from his captive audience of admirers.
Abbott took the bet that securing Trump’s endorsement would be his ticket toward fending off his right-wing rivals in the governor’s race, and in any other national election he may choose to jump into a few years down the line. And if that means he has to awkwardly laugh when his Republican bedfellow won’t stop talking about old grievances instead of having a laser-focus on the border issues Abbott believes he needs to hammer to win his next race, that’s a deal Abbott seems more than willing to accept.
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